Thomas Tompion

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Thomas Tompion
Thomas Tompion00.jpg
Engraving of Thomas Tompion by John Smith, after a portrait by Sir Godfrey Kneller
Born1639
Northill, Bedfordshire
Died1713
London
Nationality English
OccupationClock- and watchmaker

Thomas Tompion (16391713) was an English clockmaker, watchmaker and mechanician who is still regarded to this day as the "Father of English Clockmaking". Tompion's work includes some of the most historic and important clocks and watches in the world, and can command very high prices whenever outstanding examples appear at auction. A plaque commemorates the house he shared on Fleet Street in London with his equally famous pupil and successor George Graham.

Fleet Street street in the City of London, England

Fleet Street is a major street mostly in the City of London. It runs west to east from Temple Bar at the boundary with the City of Westminster to Ludgate Circus at the site of the London Wall and the River Fleet from which the street was named.

George Graham (clockmaker) English clockmaker, inventor, and geophysicist

George Graham was an English clockmaker, inventor, and geophysicist, and a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Contents

Biography

Thomas Tompion was born around 1639 and was baptized on 25 July 1639 in Northill, Bedfordshire, England. [1] The Worshipful Company of Clockmakers maintains the family cottage in Ickwell, his home hamlet in the parish of Northill. He was the eldest son of a blacksmith, also named Thomas Tompion, and probably worked as a blacksmith until 1664 when he became an apprentice of a London clockmaker. Very little of his earlier years is known. The first reference to Tompion in London is recorded around the end of 1670 in Water Lane (now Whitefriars Street) off Fleet Street.

Northill farm village in the United Kingdom

Northill is a village and civil parish in the county of Bedfordshire, England. It falls under the Northill and Blunham ward in the Central Bedfordshire local authority. In 2001 Northill had a population of about 900 people. The village is also the administrative centre of the civil parish of Northill, which in 2001 had a population of 2,288, reducing to 2,270 at the 2011 Census. The parish includes the hamlets of Budna, Lower and Upper Caldecote, Hatch, Ickwell and Thorncote Green.

Bedfordshire County of England

Bedfordshire is a county in the East of England. It is a ceremonial county and a historic county, covered by three unitary authorities: Bedford, Central Bedfordshire, and Luton.

Worshipful Company of Clockmakers

The Worshipful Company of Clockmakers is one of the Livery Companies of the City of London. The Clockmakers were formed by a Royal Charter in 1631. Originally, no person was allowed to sell clocks unless they were a member of the Company. However, such requirements have since been relaxed and later removed. The Company now exists as a charitable institution, as do a majority of Livery Companies.

His early clockmaking style shows a strong connection with Joseph Knibb. This is of interest as Tompion's most important early patron was the scientist Robert Hooke who may well have known the Knibb family, as both were in Oxford. Hooke's relationship with Tompion was the key to his success as it opened doors to royal patronage as well as giving him access to the latest technology.

Joseph Knibb British clovkmaker

Joseph Knibb (1640–1711) was an English clockmaker of the Restoration era.

Robert Hooke English natural philosopher, architect and polymath

Robert Hooke FRS was an English natural philosopher, architect and polymath. As a young adult, he was a financially impoverished scientific inquirer, but came into wealth and good reputation following his actions as Surveyor to the City of London after the great fire of 1666 . At that time, he was also the curator of experiments of the Royal Society, and a member of its council, Gresham Professor of Geometry. He was also an important architect of his time—though few of his buildings now survive and some of those are generally misattributed—and was instrumental in devising a set of planning controls for London, the influence of which remains today. Allan Chapman has characterised him as "England's Leonardo".

Tompion's excellence was based on the sound design of his productions as well as the high quality of the materials used. This together with the outstanding skills of the workmen he employed gave him an unrivalled reputation throughout the known world. Many of these workmen had French and Dutch Huguenot origins, for example Daniel and Nicholas Delander, Henry Callot and Charles Molyns, the latter possibly related to the family Windmills. Importantly, those Huguenots who worked for him in the sphere of decorative arts were able to execute Tompion's demands for the high quality workmanship on which he founded his unrivalled reputation. Tompion was an early member of the Clockmakers' Company of London – he joined in 1671 and became a master in 1704.

When the Royal Observatory was established in 1676, King Charles II selected Tompion to create two identical clocks based on Hooke's idea of a very long pendulum swinging in a very small arc. These were fixed in the Octagon room, each was driven by a deadbeat escapement designed by Richard Towneley, with both clocks only needing to be wound once a year. They proved to be very accurate and were instrumental in achieving the correct calculations needed for astronomical observations.

Royal Observatory, Greenwich observatory in Greenwich, London, UK

The Royal Observatory, Greenwich is an observatory situated on a hill in Greenwich Park, overlooking the River Thames. It played a major role in the history of astronomy and navigation, and is best known for the fact that the prime meridian passes through it, and thereby gave its name to Greenwich Mean Time. The ROG has the IAU observatory code of 000, the first in the list. ROG, the National Maritime Museum, the Queen's House and Cutty Sark are collectively designated Royal Museums Greenwich.

Charles II of England 17th-century King of England, Ireland and Scotland

Charles II was king of England, Scotland, and Ireland. He was king of Scotland from 1649 until his deposition in 1651, and king of England, Scotland and Ireland from the 1660 Restoration of the monarchy until his death.

Richard Towneley was an English mathematician, natural philosopher and astronomer from Towneley near Burnley, Lancashire. He was the nephew of Christopher Towneley, who corresponded with a group of seventeenth-century astronomers in the north of England which included Jeremiah Horrocks, William Crabtree and William Gascoigne, the pioneer astronomers who laid the groundwork for research astronomy in the UK. An investigation carried out with the physician Henry Power, followed by correspondence with Robert Boyle, showed the relationship between the pressure and volume of gas in a closed system and led to the formulation of Boyle's Law, or as Boyle named it, Mr. Towneley's hypothesis. He introduced John Flamsteed to the micrometer and invented the deadbeat escapement used in two clocks in the Greenwich Observatory.

Plaque in Fleet Street, London, commemorating Thomas Tompion and George Graham T Tompion and G Graham.JPG
Plaque in Fleet Street, London, commemorating Thomas Tompion and George Graham
Sundial made by Thomas Tompion at Hampton Court, c. 1680 Hampton Court Palace (3037893374).jpg
Sundial made by Thomas Tompion at Hampton Court, c. 1680

Due to his relationship with the scientist Robert Hooke he made some of the first watches with balance springs, these had the potential to be much more accurate than earlier watches. Several different kinds were experimented with, including an early type with double balances geared together in order to eliminate errors of motion. One of these was made for King Charles II and was signed "Robert Hooke invent. 1658. T. Tompion fecit, 1675". William Derham mentions this in his book The Artificial Clockmaker. [2] This watch, it seems, has not survived. The final form of balance spring arrangement used by Tompion was a plain spiral with a single balance, indeed the same arrangement employed by Christiaan Huygens in watches made for him by Thuret. A few of Tompion's early spiral balance spring movements were also of a similar specification to the Huygens/Thuret pattern as they had a standing barrel and no fusee. Huygens imagined that the latter would not be necessary as the spiral spring would render the balance isochronous. Tompion must have soon found this rather optimistic surmise was however incorrect, as all Tompion's subsequent spiral balance spring movements have fusees, and this design became the standard pattern in English watches throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.

Watch personal timepiece

A watch is a timepiece intended to be carried or worn by a person. It is designed to keep working despite the motions caused by the person's activities. A wristwatch is designed to be worn around the wrist, attached by a watch strap or other type of bracelet. A pocket watch is designed for a person to carry in a pocket. The study of timekeeping is known as horology.

A balance spring, or hairspring, is a spring attached to the balance wheel in mechanical timepieces. It causes the balance wheel to oscillate with a resonant frequency when the timepiece is running, which controls the speed at which the wheels of the timepiece turn, thus the rate of movement of the hands. A regulator lever is often fitted, which can be used to alter the free length of the spring and thereby adjust the rate of the timepiece.

William Derham English clergyman and natural philosopher

William Derham FRS was an English clergyman, natural theologian, natural philosopher and scientist. He produced the earliest, reasonably accurate estimate of the speed of sound.

It is often stated that Tompion invented the particular type of balance spring regulation in pocket watches widely used until the late 19th century. This has the curb pins mounted on a sector rack, and moved by a pinion on which is mounted a graduated and numbered disc. While this system was used by Tompion, many refer to it incorrectly as the "Tompion regulator". However, he certainly did not invent this system, as such regulating devices were already in use by the 1670s on French balance spring watches of the Thuret pattern.

As England's most prominent watchmaker, Tompion's workshop built about 5,500 watches and 650 clocks during his career. [3] Tompion's clocks are known for their ingenuity of design and robust construction. His three-train grande sonnerie bracket clocks are masterpieces. Those interested in mechanics are particularly attracted to the mechanisms of such clocks and his repeating watches as they are quite complex, indeed it could even be said over-complex, though efficient in operation. He shares this characteristic with the later French-Swiss watchmaker Breguet.

Another of Tompion's innovations was to create a numbering system for his spring and longcase clocks, which is thought to be the first time that a serial numbering system was applied to manufactured goods.

Later life

Tompion went into partnership with Edward Banger in 1701 until about 1707 or 1708, when it was dissolved in circumstances which are not at all clear. Certainly from around 1711 it was George Graham who was in partnership with Tompion. Some of his later productions are jointly signed, and mysteriously some clocks have this signature on a separate plate which overlays that of Tompion and Banger engraved on the dial plate proper.

George Graham, went on to further develop the designs of both scientific instruments as well as clocks and watches after Tompion's death, and he also continued Tompion's numbering system for his clocks and watches.

Thomas Tompion died on 20 November 1713 and was buried in Westminster Abbey, George Graham being buried alongside him in 1751. Many of his clocks are still operational today, including two of his one-year clocks in Buckingham Palace. Many of his watches survive and due to their sound construction still continue to work, as predicted by Hatton in 1773.

The modern Swiss wristwatch brand "Tompion" of the so-called "British Masters" series has no connection either with Thomas Tompion or the original firm of that name.

Examples of Tompion's work

Ornate clock (known as the 'Mostyn Tompion') made by Thomas Tompion in the British Museum, 1690 AD Inside the British Museum, London - DSC04228.JPG
Ornate clock (known as the 'Mostyn Tompion') made by Thomas Tompion in the British Museum, 1690 AD

Cultural references

Thos. Tompion is one of the statues of craftsmen set on the Exhibition Road facade of the Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington.

In Elizabeth Goudge's 1960 novel The Dean's Watch, Thomas Tompion is remembered reverently by the clockmaker Isaac Peabody.

In the 1986 film Clockwise , the school of which John Cleese's character is headmaster was named for Thomas Tompion, appropriate given the headmaster's attention to punctuality.

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References

  1. "Thomas Tompion". Ickwell. Bedford Borough Council. Archived from the original on 2011-06-15.
  2. Derham (William) M.A. "The Artificial Clock-maker: A Treatise of Watch and Clock-work etc.", First edition published 1696 by James Knapton at the Crown in St. Paul's Church-yard, London.
  3. "Clocks And Watches (T) – Encyclopedia Of Antiques". Antiques Digest – Lost Knowledge From The Past. Old and Sold Antiques Auction & Marketplace. Retrieved 14 May 2008.
  4. British Museum Highlights Archived 2015-10-28 at the Wayback Machine

Further reading